About This Blog

Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) was the greatest economist of my time. His greatest works can be accessed here at no charge.

Mises believed that property, freedom and peace are and should be the hallmarks of a satisfying and prosperous society. I agree. Mises proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the prospect for general and individual prosperity is maximized, indeed, is only possible, if the principle of private property reigns supreme. What's yours is yours. What's mine is mine. When the line between yours and mine is smudged, the door to conflict opens. Without freedom (individual liberty of action) the principle of private property is neutered and the free market, which is the child of property and freedom and the mother of prosperity and satisfaction, cannot exist. Peace is the goal of a prosperous and satisfying society of free individuals, not peace which is purchased by submission to the enemies of property and freedom, but peace which results from the unyielding defense of these principles against all who challenge them.

In this blog I measure American society against the metrics of property, freedom and peace.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ron Paul And Anarchy, PART II

In my last post I described the fissure among "small 'L'" philosophical libertarians, some of whom consider themselves anarchists and others, minarchists. The debate between these two factions has always been intense and heated, and prior to the turn of the century the minarchists clearly, at least in my opinion, had the best of the argument.

The anarchists, known as anarcho-capitalists, were considered radical and impractical dreamers in search of a libertarian nirvana. They were really "out there," relying on the political experience of medieval Iceland to buttress their almost laughable point of view that anarchy once existed and that the free market is able to provide not only the best value in bread but also in law making. Yet, the two sides still communicated. That all changed on September 11, 2001.

After Islamists destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center, the libertarian debate between anarchists and minarchists seemed over for most, as both sides coalesced around their respective positions. The anarchists became more convinced than ever that statism precipitated the New York attack. Many felt that the US government organized the attack covertly. They thought the time for argument was over. They gradually excluded minarchist argument from the well respected website of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. The fledgling LewRockwell.com became the gathering place for the anarchist wing of the libertarian movement. LewRockwell, an ardent "anti-state anti-war pro-market" anarchist was the guiding force of both organizations. Moreover, websites which used to foster internecine anarchist/minarchist debate vanished from the web.

For their part, the libertarian minarchists went their own way as well. Many supported George W. Bush's aggressive response to 9/11. Some took positions in think tanks that were free market in their economic orientation, but supported secure US borders (anarchists favor open borders) and a somewhat interventionist US foreign policy. Some founded similarly aligned websites and blogs. The division between anarchists and minarchists had become institutional. If they existed at all, any continuing arguments between the two camps consisted of slurs and ridicule. Why? The fight began to pivot on questions regarding patriotism and genuine libertarianism, subjects that stir the emotions of American libertarians like few others.

One side, the anarchist faction, was convinced allegiance to the policies of George W. Bush was treasonous to the libertarian principle of non-aggression. The other side, the minarchist side, pointed out the nonsense of having open borders and an open immigration policy in a world full of crazed Islamist fundamentalists bent on terrorizing America. Many of these libertarians were even willing to give Bush's Iraq adventure the benefit of the doubt. Anarchists and minarchists alike thought that was nuts and un-libertarian. The fault lines in libertarianism grew wider, deeper and more diverse than ever.

Nowadays, in general, the anarchist libertarians are riding high while the minarchists are silently licking their wounds. Anarchists believe ten years of a tenuous, bloody and almost futile war in Iraq and Afghanistan vindicate their non-interventionist foreign policy philosophy. Moreover, they have simultaneously been able to co-opt the libertarian "free market" agenda as their own.

The fiscal and monetary crisis which occurred at the end of the Bush presidency convinced them more than ever before that government -- the huge bureaucracy, the Federal Reserve, Fannie and Freddie and the like -- is inherently destructive and evil. Of all libertarian and semi-libertarian opinion mills, the Ludwig von Mises Institute and LewRockwell.com were two of the few that steadfastly opposed government bailouts of the economy. Their fervent anti-war and unflinching pro-market positions gradually melded into the anti-state rhetoric which is so popular these days on campuses and on the internet.

Today it is virtually impossible for minarchists to get a word in edgewise much less gain a philosophical foothold. Any attempt to do so is immediately slandered as the hated and mystical neo-conservatism.

This is not to say all is quiet on the Western front among the anarchists. Today most anarcho-capitalists, especially those who have not gone apolitical or anti-political, prefer calling themselves "Voluntaryists." They apparently want to disassociate themselves from the bad connotations of the word anarchism, which tend to conjure up images of freaks tossing Molotov cocktails through department store windows in places like Seattle. Such images are counterproductive to winning hearts and minds in actual, real political campaigning.

My mention of apolitical or anti-political anarcho-capitalists was not accidental. It seems the latest schism in the libertarian faith is the divide between voluntaryists, who seek to establish a libertarian nirvana in the US by means of political action within the system, and fundamentalist anarchists who believe running for political office and even voting is statist aggression. These fundamentalist anarchists, who I will refer to, in the interests of clarity, as the all-in anarchists, are the true problem children of the libertarian anarchist movement. Let me explain.

The crux of the anarchist argument against minarchism is that anarchism is the logical extension of the first principles of libertarianism: first, the famed non-aggression principle; and second, the principle of self-ownership. According to Wikipedia, the non-aggression principle “asserts that aggression is inherently illegitimate. Aggression…is defined as the initiation or threatening of violence against a person or legitimately owned property of another.” Wikipedia says self-ownership “is the concept of property in one's own person, expressed as the moral or natural right of a person to be the exclusive controller of his own body and life.”

Since almost by definition "government," or the "state," is in the business of coercing individuals to act in a particular way and forcing individuals to forfeit their property to the state by means of taxation, anarchy—the absence of government—is held by its advocates to be most logically consistent with libertarianism. However, one needn’t be a logician to see the contradiction in a voluntaryist, who believes in the absence of government but, at the same time, runs for political office. Voluntaryists rationalize their political action by arguing that one may be active in politics in order to ultimately eliminate the need for politics.

The all-in anarchists are quick to point out that such a position is merely pragmatic and strictly illogical. Ultimately, logic dictates that, if the state is in the business of aggression against person and property, then becoming part of the state through political action is aggression as well. Thus, all-in anarchism is THE ultimate and logical extension of the prime libertarian directives.

This is the kind of esoteric, internecine argument that takes place nowadays on websites like LewRockwell.com and the Ludwig von Mises Institute: Which faction of anarchism is genuinely libertarian? Any mention of minarchism has passed by the wayside.

What does all this have to do with Ron Paul and his run for the Presidency in 2012?


Ron Paul comes from the Voluntaryist wing of libertarian anarchism.

(Believe it or not, Paul’s candidacy is criticized and opposed by doctrinaire all-in anarchists like Stephan Molyneaux. Molyneaux’s archive of articles has apparently been purged by LewRockwell.com which supports Paul’s run for the Presidency.)

I don't think Paul’s status as a voluntaryist anarchist is debatable. It certainly seems like a settled fact among Paul's political supporters.

Consider this video...

Paul may disavow his controversial newsletters of 25 years ago by saying he took a hands-off approach to publishing them, and that he disagrees with the iconoclastic rhetoric and political positions in them, but the fact remains he allowed two aggressive and confirmed voluntaryist anarchists virtual free rein to produce and write the newsletters: Lew Rockwell and Jeffrey Tucker. Now Paul is suffering the political damage that Rockwell, Tucker and anarchist political theory have rained down on him.

Deservedly or not, Paul is being tarred and feathered by the company he kept and continues to keep.

Don't misinterpret what I am saying. Yes, I believe Ron Paul is both emotionally and intellectually a “voluntaryist" anarchist. I believe he participates in politics because he does not want to reform the Washington power structure, but wants to make it completely obsolete. In short, he wants to eliminate government by political means and, thereby, avoid a violent revolution. If Ron Paul is anything, he is committed to non-violence.

I am a minarchist. Yet, I support Ron Paul for President. I support his candidacy not because of his voluntaryist anarchist beliefs, but in spite of them. I’ll try to explain why as I continue this series of posts. First, however, I want to explore the damage being done to Ron Paul’s credibility and to his campaign by the likes of Lew Rockwell and company, along with the outrageous political philosophy of voluntaryism.

More to follow.


theCL said...

A few thoughts ...

Paul is a minarchist of the Robert A Taft school of American conservatism. Libertarian by today's standards for sure, but Ron Paul is no anarchist.

The minarchist argument is alive and well at both LewRockwell.com and Mises.org.

Anarcho-capitalists are not necessarily voluntarists, and vice versa.

Joseph Sobran, a man who's conservative bonafides are undeniable, found himself too to be a "Reluctant Anarchist." My point being that it's not as radical as you seem to think.

Open borders? You obviously haven't read anarcho-capitalist titans Murray Rothbard and Hans-Hermann Hoppe.

Paul's libertarian problem comes from left-libertarians and beltway libertarians (cosmotarians/liberaltarians), not anarcho-capitalists.

What do you have against Jeffrey Tucker?

Anarcho-capitalism is rooted in the natural law theory of St. Thomas Aquinas, the very religious, legal and political traditions America was founded upon, and that man fought centuries to achieve.

Ancient Israel (see Judges, Samuel, etc.) had a societal structure not unlike anarcho-capitalism. When they demanded a king (ruler(s)), God declared it a rejection of Him.

And yes, any way you slice it, taxation is theft. Of course, this wasn't a controversial statement in America half a century ago either. Boy, how times have changed.

Sherman Broder said...

Thanks for your thoughts, CL.

First of all, my posts are written directly from my own experience. I do not intend that they be viewed as any kind of overall, objective or absolute history of libertarianism. I am not an "insider." I have no axe to grind. I'm happy to accept corrections and other points of view from those more in the know.

Second, mine is a layman's prospective. I don't profess to be an expert on the fine political or philosophical distinctions between voluntarism, anarcho-capitalism and various shades of libertarianism. I call things as I subjectively understand them.

Third, I'm trying to frame these posts in the overall, broad context of anarchism vs minarchism, i.e., no government vs limited government.

Fourth, I've read some Rothbard and Hoppe, but I am certainly not a scholar with regard to libertarian authors. Recently, I've not even followed LewRockwell.com or LVMI on a daily basis.

That said, I'll try to answer your questions.

It may be obvious to you that Ron Paul is for limited government. Based on his words and actions -- and his longtime associations, such as with Lew Rockwell -- my opinion is that he views limited government as a means to an end, the end being a society with no government. If you can point me to something Paul has written that contradicts this opinion, I'll change it. I think we can both agree that on the scale of minarchism to anarchism, Paul is about as close to anarchism as an alleged minarchist can get.

My comment regarding open borders was based on the platform of the Libertarian Party which called for open borders the last time I looked. I don't believe Lew Rockwell believes in closed borders. Again, if I'm mistaken, I'll change my mind. However, I do appreciate the point of view of Rothbard and Hoppe.

I have nothing against Jeffrey Tucker. In fact, I have nothing against Lew Rockwell or any libertarian. Moreover, I admire Rockwell and Tucker for the work they've done at LVMI in the service of Austrian economics.

However, I have a huge problem with the anarcho-capitalist argument. I believe its premise is false and its logic is faulty. I understand why there is an anarchist bias at LVMI, though I dislike it. My opinion is that the anarchist argument polarizes the economic and political discussion. This harms Paul's political efforts and the political efforts of non-anarchist libertarians.

Finally, I appreciate the roots of the anarchist premise. I merely think that the roots are buried in barren soil.

As regards to taxation being "theft," I hope to post my complete thoughts on that subject sometime soon. In short, I believe taxation is theft in a dictatorial state, but, strictly speaking, it cannot be considered theft in the context of a consensual society. (Whether the USA remains a consensual society is a matter for further discussion.)

Thanks again for you input. I truly appreciate the point of view.

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